ORLANDO, Fla. – The Magic’s latest makeover continues to have a youthful feel.
Orlando announced the hiring of Jacque Vaughn, 37, as its next head coach on Saturday, bringing the latest 30-something member to its basketball operations department following the hiring of 30-year-old general manager Rob Hennigan last month. He will be formally introduced at a news conference on Monday.
Vaughn becomes the 10th coach in team history and replaces Stan Van Gundy, who was fired May 21 despite compiling a 259-135 regular-season record, franchise-best .657 winning percentage and a 31-28 playoff record.
“As we navigated through our coaching search, we quickly saw that Jacque’s spirit and leadership strengths made him the clear choice,” Hennigan said in a statement. “We are confident that his diligence, attention to detail and communication style will help establish the bedrock of our culture moving forward. His commitment and passion to building a sustainable program will help steer our organization for years to come.”
Hennigan chose Vaughn from a finalists’ pool that included Phoenix Suns development coach Lindsey Hunter and former Detroit Pistons head coach and current Philadelphia 76ers assistant Michael Curry.
A 12-year NBA player before retiring in 2009 with San Antonio, Vaughn’s career included 80 games for the Magic in 2002-03. The former Kansas Jayhawks standout has never been an NBA head coach. But he has spent the past two seasons as an assistant at San Antonio, where he also won a championship as a player in 2007.
That is important because one of the qualities that both Hennigan and Magic CEO Alex Martins said the team was seeking in a successor to Van Gundy was a championship pedigree.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is one of the league’s top coaches and has multiple NBA titles. Vaughn also has played under the likes of Boston coach Doc Rivers, Cleveland coach Byron Scott both who have titles as coaches or players and former Utah coach Jerry Sloan.
Even before Vaughn was announced, the potential choice was receiving some criticism after Vaughn moved to a front-runner position.
Former Magic player and current television analyst Shaquille O’Neal posted a scathing assessment of Vaughn likely succeeding Van Gundy, posting on Twitter: “Orlando magic is about to hire jock Vaughn over mike Malone or Brian shaw are u kidding me, wow, good luck winning wit Dat team Dwite Howard.”
Malone, Golden State’s lead assistant, and Shaw, Indiana’s associate head coach, also both received preliminary interviews and, like Vaughn, are considered in NBA circles to be rising prospects among the assistant coaching ranks.
O’Neal has friendship ties to both having played with Shaw as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. He also briefly played under Malone with he was an assistant with the Cavaliers.
That criticism aside, the biggest unknown is what, if anything, Vaughn’s hire will do to quell or exacerbate Magic center Dwight Howard’s desire to leave town.
Howard reissued his trade demand to Hennigan when the pair met for the first time in Los Angeles last month, singling out the Brooklyn Nets as his desired landing spot.
After recent efforts by Orlando to make that happen fell through, along with possible trades to other teams, Howard has since told Hennigan in another meeting that he has no desire to return to Orlando next season for the final year of his contract.
Martins said following Van Gundy’s firing that the team did not want to go through the same whirlwind of uncertainty that Howard’s preseason trade demand put it through last season.
But Hennigan said earlier this month that he didn’t rule out the possibility of Howard returning to the Magic next season.
Editor’s Note: An accomplished scholar-athlete at the University of Kansas, Jacque Vaughn was named the Arthur Ashe Jr. Male Sports Scholar of the Year in 1995 by Black Issues In Higher Education magazine, the predecessor publication to Diverse: Issues In Higher Education.